Answering who was the first to arrive in Antarctica is complicated. Depending on who you ask the question, they may answer that it was one explorer or another. This is because in 1820 there were two rival expeditions that set out to discover Antarctica and of course only one of them could arrive first.
There is no doubt that this icy continent has always been quite particular. To this day, it is still a challenge for many to reach the Antarctic coast. In this article we will focus on the first expeditions that were made to Antarctica.
If you find it interesting, today you can recreate some of them with the advantage that now you have more technology. If you want to know more about Antarctica, do not hesitate, keep reading.
Discovery and exploration of Antarctica
Amundsen was the first explorer to reach Antarctica, in particular, he did so five weeks before his competitor Robert Falcon Scott who we will talk about later. Amundsen’s arrival in Antarctica occurred on December 14, 1911. Unlike his rival Scott who died on the return journey, Amundsen would arrive safely with his expedition back home.
Amundsen’s first idea was to reach the Arctic and conquer the North Pole. To achieve his enterprise he used a special ship to navigate on the ice, the Fram, a ship that had already been used successfully in the polar exploration of Fridtjof Nansen. While preparing to carry out his feat, 1909 he was told that he had been overtaken, so he changed his entire objective and thus led his expedition to the South Pole.
This expedition would keep it secret until November 10, 1908 when he announced his plans. The plan was to take Fram around Cape Horn, resupply at San Francisco, and continue north to Barrow Point. From here the course would be direct towards the ice until starting a journey that would last between 4 and 5 years.
For three winters Amundsen lived and worked in the Arctic until he finally managed to navigate a route that made its way between the islands to the Beaufort and Bering Seas, which was conceived as a historic achievement. During all the time he was living with the natives he learned to handle himself better on the ice, knowledge that would be very valid for his career to the South Pole.
Amundsen and his men spent six months accumulating provisions for the voyage and studying the environment well. It would be on October 20 when he would undertake the 1300 km journey that separated him from his goal. For the trip, he took with him 4 sleds, each with a load of 400 kilos pulled by 13 dogs. Despite the inclement weather and inhospitable terrain, the Norwegians would arrive at their destination as scheduled and without incident.
As for Scott’s career, although he would culminate his arrival on January 17, 1912, the outcome was not as happy as Amundsen’s. Scott’s career would begin on July 15, 1990 on his boat Terra Nova. She would arrive in New Zealand on October 28 where she would be supplied.
Unlike Amundsen, Scott had better technology, proof of which was the motorized vehicles he would use in addition to horses or dogs. Despite this, the motorized equipment would end up breaking down and they looked for alternatives which inevitably delayed the group.
After some changes in the expedition, on December 20 12 men of Scott’s group would arrive at Beardmore Glacier without knowing very well Scott which group would accompany him at the end of his expedition to the pole. Scott’s men were divided between those who were support groups, others who moved the sick and a final group that went to the South Pole.
This polo group composed of Edward Adrian Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Henry Robertson Bowers and Edgar Evans along with Scott himself would reach the position to which Shackleton arrived three years earlier to travel the final 180 kilometers until the arrival at the South Pole during the following seven days.
Upon arrival, Scott himself was disappointed to find a shop with a Norwegian flag, an unmistakable sign that Amundsen had arrived earlier. In addition to the tent, the Norwegians themselves left supplies for Scott to help him on his expedition.
The main difference between the two expeditions was in the way they were made. While Amundsen used dog sledding which did very well, Scott’s men had much more trouble dealing with horses and machinery. It was sought that these had a more favorable time to leave which in the end ended up delaying the group.
In addition to this, Amundsen’s trip to the pole lasted 57 days compared to Scott’s 79. For his part, Amundsen had left 12 days earlier. When Scott planted his flag it was time to return from the expedition. They advanced at a reasonable pace during the first days at a rate of 23 kilometers per day.
With the passage of time the temperatures were dropping and the snow became harder and thicker, which increased the grip of the skis and made it difficult for the sleds to pass. On February 7, the descent of the Beardmore Glacier would begin, being the location of the supply depots impossible.
Scott’s team was a victim of malnutrition and the members of this were dying little by little with Evans being the first to do so on February 17. Faced with the new ice shelf they reached, the weather conditions became even more extreme and finally malnutrition, scurvy and dehydration did not spare a group that would never return and find its end in the ice.
Even though Scott had lost the race , he became a hero. In fact, the return trip features great moments that have been immortalized in works of art. One of the most vaunted moments was Oates’ sacrifice. This explorer, being practically defeated by the gangrene he suffered, so as not to delay his expedition companions knowing that they would not abandon him to his fate, decided to sacrifice himself for the good of the group and abandon the tent.
Finally, Scott’s diary was rescued and served as a perfect chronicle to know the harsh conditions they had to face on the way back.
The expedition known as Endurance was the last major expedition to take place in the golden age of Antarctic exploration. This expedition was led by Ernest Shackleton who aspired to be the first to cross the entire Antarctic continent by land.
The distance to travel was 2900 kilometers, being more than half of the route unexplored. Although the expedition was not successful, it has managed to be remembered as an expedition full of heroism and survival.
This expedition would begin on August 8, 1914 and would make several stops to recruit new crew and get supplies. The Endurance’s journey would not be entirely comfortable, as after setting sail on December 5 to Antarctica, it would find a sea ice far north that would take the ship to maneuver.
During the following days they had many encounters with several blocks of smell until, finally, on December 14 the encounter would be with a much thicker block of ice which would lead the ship to be detained for a whole day. This event would be repeated three days later, an aspect that surprised Shackleton as he would relate in his diary on board.
All these stops inevitably delayed the passage of the Endurance which, despite all the challenges, still stood firm. Finally, thanks to the probes making way, the Endurance was able to sail freely without stopping until December 22. Although they encountered some moderate delay, the progress was quite good until between January 7 and 10 they found themselves near a 30-meter-high ice wall in the coastal region of Coats Land.
On January 15, the Endurance was next to a large glacier on its shore. In this glacier a kind of bay was formed that Shackleton thought was a good place to disembark, a fact that he would later regret. The Endurance was located near the coast of Luitpold in its southernmost part. The next day, the ship had to change course 23 kilometers to the west, continuing south and then turning northwest until finally stopping completely.
The Endurance was trapped in the ice at 76°34’S, 31°30’W. Despite efforts to free the ship from the ice, Shackleton himself forced the crew to cut the ice with chisels, saws and picks, proving impossible.
Despite being trapped in the ice, the ship would move alongside the ice shelf on which it was stranded. The speed of the ice was quite low. At the end of March Shackleton calculated that they had covered only 155 kilometers since January 19. The ship would continue to drift until four months later where, with the arrival of spring, the ice could be opened.
When the Endurance was in position 72°26’S, 48°10’W the ice began to break. The main problem was the pressure to which the ship was subjected by the blocks of ice, causing a significant heel to port. With the passage of time the Endurance began to suffer the effect of the pressures and the sailors feared for its condition.
Although it had been able to withstand several pressures, on October 24 the hull began to crack and water began to enter the ship. While the crew tried to repair the hull, they lowered into the ice block the supplies and lifeboats they counted on, fearful that the Endurance would not take it anymore. Finally, on October 27 and with temperatures of -25º, Shackleton would give the order to abandon ship.
After the breakage and abandonment of the ship the only thing left was to survive and for this they considered reaching different nearby islands, a company of the most complicated by the pressure of the ice and the lifting of the blocks of ice up to 3 meters high. The weather conditions were very adverse and, in addition, visibility was very poor. Walking through knee-deep snow was a challenge.
The journey was not at all easy and after wandering the ice finally, Shackleton with two of his men would arrive at Peggotty Camp where they were picked up by a ship. The rest of the expedition had remained on Elephant Island where days later they were picked up by the ship that rescued Shackleton putting a happy ending to the story.